Crystal River Preserve State Park is a remnant of the Florida coastline that has changed little since Europeans arrived nearly 500 years ago. The preserve covers more than 27,000 acres of scrub, pinewoods, hardwood forests, salt marshes and mangrove islands. Management of the property was transferred to the Florida Park Service in July 2004. Several of the larger parcels added to the park over the years were acquired from families that homesteaded in the county. One tract was part of the turpentine industry in the early 1900s. Much of the property is still untouched, allowing visitors a glimpse at what this area of Florida looked like centuries ago.
Boat tours led by park rangers or volunteers are popular activities within the park. These tours serve a valuable function by educating the public about protecting estuarine systems and encouraging stewardship of the river to preserve the abundance of plants and animals living there.
Churchhouse Hammock, across from the Crystal River Mall, has a one-third mile boardwalk. The three-quarter-mile primitive path starts at the boardwalk, winds through a hardwood forest to a sawgrass marsh. The boardwalk is fully accessible and makes a pleasant short stroll. Several smaller trails are available near the office and visitor center. These trails, along with Dixie Shores and Redfish Hole, are part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Fishing is available at the Mullet Hole, Dixie Shores Lake and the Redfish Hole. There are two kayak/canoe launches in the park and public boat ramps in the county leading into the Citrus County canoe/kayak trail.
The Eco-walk and Bicycle Loop trailheads are located on Tallahassee Road. The Eco-walk is a self-interpretive two-mile trail with eleven Discovery Zones. The seven-mile bicycle trail circles several habitats and fringes a salt marsh. Both trails offer excellent wildlife viewing and birding, especially during the spring and fall migrations.
As part of one of the world's rare spring-fed estuaries, the preserve is home to a wealth of plant and animal species. The abundance of springs feeding into the Gulf of Mexico, coupled with little action by wind or waves, creates a zero-energy coastline of salt marshes instead of sandy beaches. This provides an excellent birthplace and habitat for wildlife and flora. Visitors can see West Indian manatees, deer, turkeys, quail, foxes, tortoises, eagles, tanagers, bluebirds, hawks, woodpeckers, herons, egrets, cormorants, gulls and pelicans as well as monarch butterflies among the wildflowers, longleaf pines, live oaks, maples, bays, magnolias, sweetgums, needlerush, cordgrass, sabal palms, red cedars and mangroves.